Historic preservation. A movement that's continuing to gather steam

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HISTORIC Preservation Week 1987 heralds many accomplishments, says Jack Walters, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Historic house museums flourish today, from the very first, Mount Vernon, the Virginia home of George Washington, to the opening this spring of Montpelier, the Virginia home of James Madison, who has become known as the father of the United States Constitution.

The National Trust purchased Montpelier in 1984 and expects 60,000 visitors annually to enjoy the completed restoration. Its opening befits the preservation week theme, ``Landmarks of Democracy.''

Numerous maritime preservation groups have come into being in recent years, says Mr. Walters. These sponsor activities from parades of Tall Ships to the development of standards and procedures for preservation of historic ships. Protection of historic waterfronts and underwater archaeology are other concerns.

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The success of preservation and renovation, Walters says, has become a phenomenon of our times and a multibillion-dollar industry.

``There are literally hundreds of thousands of people out there who are lavishing loving care, careful research, money, and elbow grease on the restoration of old and historic houses,'' he says.

His point is bolstered by the popularity of both the Center for Historic Houses, organized by the National Trust to offer help to private owners of such houses, and the Old House Journal, which supplies readers with over 1,400 sources for high-quality restoration products and services.

Some states and locales provide various forms of real estate tax abatement to the owners of historic houses. But for now, says Walters, there's no federal source of assistance to people involved in preserving or restoring private dwellings, either directly or through the tax code.

Congress did recently retain the so-called historic rehabilitation tax credit, however.

This tax credit is available to those people who rehabilitate commercial or revenue-producing property, as opposed to owner-occupied residential property.

``We believe this is very major victory for the Trust and for preservationists,'' says Walters, ``because in excess of $10 billion worth of rehabilitation in downtown areas from Portland, Maine, to Honolulu has been leveraged by that one credit.''

Increasingly, he says, the downtown rehabilitation and revitalization effort is the centerpiece of the organized historic preservation movement in this country.

``You can see older buildings being fixed up to house new businesses in almost any town or city that you visit,'' he asserts, ``and that means revival of economic life.''

The National Trust runs the largest small-town revitalization program in America through its National Main Street Program, Walters points out.

At present, over 300 towns in 30 states serve as models for other towns whose economies may be threatened by deteriorating downtown buildings.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a private, nonprofit membership organization, chartered by Congress in 1949 to be the private-sector leader of the preservation movement.

It now has almost 200,000 members and grows each year as the preservation ethic grows.

``Since historic preservation is an intensely local activity,'' says the National Trust president, ``we urge people not only to give support to this national organization but to join those local groups that are pressing to protect and restore community landmarks.''

For readers interested in learning more about historic preservation, the address of the National Trust is 1785 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20036.

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